After reading this sentence please close your eyes and imagine someone who works in public relations, give yourself five seconds and then reopen them.
Remember what you thought of.
Now, I always wanted to be a journalist - I love telling stories, talking with the people that make them and getting the chance to peek behind the curtain and see what makes this-or-that go. When I entered J-School convergence was the name of the game. Internet news-readership was still behind print but the biggest brains in the room knew that wasn't going to last forever, and if print was going to survive they would need to adapt and pick up some tricks from their TV and web counterparts. Lots of companies tried to find a model that worked, practically no one did and here we are today. Papers are cutting staff at alarming rates and plenty of good, ethical journalists and promising students are being forced to come over to the dark side - public relations. I was one of them.
In 2010 E! TV (ughhhh…) premiered "The Spin Crowd," a reality show (ick…) produced by Kim Kardashian (ewwwww…) about Command PR - one of the entertainment industry's (gross…) biggest firms. The series only made it through eight episodes before it was canned due to poor ratings and lack of viewer interest. The public just couldn't relate to it - it was vapid image obsession spread out over 176 minutes of groan-inducing schlock.
If you can stomach it I would like to encourage you to head over to YouTube and search for a few clips and then come back. Don't worry. I'll wait.
Back? Cool. So do you remember what your idea of a PR person was from earlier? Did it match what you saw in the clips from "The Spin Crowd?" I would imagine that a number of you would say yes. I know this is a "reality" TV-based exaggeration, but you get my point.
This makes me feel a little conflicted, because I know that the majority of us aren't that bad, (some are though, as anyone who has worked in the industry can tell you) but things like this make a lot of people view PR as a pretty scummy profession filled with pretty scummy people. Everyone seems plastic, everything feels opportunistic, every move is calculated to catch attention in a "Me! Me! Me!" kind of way. The PR industry isn't doing itself any favors.
As I was taking on the promotion of the Nice Grants project winners earlier this month I had a conversation with Jason Ward about the place of PR at SmallBox. Jason and I landed on the same page - we do not believe that traditional PR meshes with the culture at SmallBox. This seems to be because too many organizations attempt to create a story out of nothing to help build or improve upon their image to help draw people in.
That's a pretty backwards way to go about things.
It should be all about having a good story. If you are promoting something just for the sake of promoting, how can you expect any person to really be interested? The best public relations comes from RELATING TO THE PUBLIC and getting to know PEOPLE, not just their products, not just their events, not just their businesses. It comes from creating advocates, not mouthpieces. It is about letting things come organically rather than forcing them. It is about actually believing in something worth believing in and helping that message spread.
Most importantly, it is about the story - and that is something that any former journalist should know. That's 101 level stuff guys. We should get back to that.